Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Be Careful What you Wish For

An article in this week's Newsweek revisits a centuries old mantra: be careful what you wish for. In Nancy Cook's Article, How Much Are you Willing to Work,? she interviews Timothy Ferriss, made famous for his economic boom-era book The 4-Hour WorkWeek, Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich. When unemployment in America tops 10%, does this even matter?

Ferriss argues that his principles (skip meetings and calls, check email once a day, generate automated revenue to maintain a baseline income and do what you love) is even more important in a recession. He believes you can use his principles to get more output out of fewer hours, whether that means working 4 hours per week or working 40 (not 80) hours per week.

Although I'm a compulsive iPhone email checker, allowing me to be both reachable to clients and preschool teachers while out interviewing candidates and sneaking in a quick gym workout, I wonder if I consolidated that email work (a huge component of my time) into one slot if that would make me more productive. I think I'd need a 12 Step Program to lose my digital leash!

But what's important here is that one person's negative (part-time employment) is another person's dream job. The unemployment numbers released Monday show a staggering rate of underemployment, defined as those seeking full-time work but only working part-time. I would argue that this is a very difficult, subjective number to quantify. Whereas many employees need and are legitimately seeking full-time work, there are just as many that want reduced hours to accommodate child or elder care, a passion, hobby or travel, as Ferris describes.

We're seeing these two components converge, and we're busier than ever! For the last two weeks our phones have been ringing off the hooks with employers finally looking to hire again, but this time, at 24-32 hours per week, or on contract, just to see how things are going to play out. While this is bad news to employees looking for full-time secure employment, this is great news to the stressed out working mom who's been working 80 hours per week to remain "indispensable" amid a flurry of pink slips. And really, is there such thing as "secure, long-term employment" anymore? Only time will tell.

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